Travel Burnout: 5 Signs That It’s Time to Take a Break

If you’ve been on the road for a while, you know that travel burnout is real. It seeps into your soul, slowly stealing away your joy — until one day, you just can’t bear to travel any more.

In 10+ years and 65 countries, I’ve burned out on travel a few times, to varying degrees. The most dramatic happened in 2015.

I’d been traveling continuously for about 5 years, and had just done 26 countries in 10 months. I arrived in Bali, expecting to find a paradise — and instead, I was confronted with beaches covered in garbage and shop after shop filled with tacky penis souvenirs. The tipping point, though, was when I came home to my Airbnb to find it swarming with ants.

Something in my brain just snapped. Within an hour, I had packed, bought a plane ticket, and hopped in a taxi to the airport That night, I was in Singapore. A few days later, I flew home to the United States and didn’t travel again for THREE YEARS. (It was glorious.)

Filthy beach in Bali that led to travel burnout
One of the filthy Bali beaches, taken just before I burned out on travel for 3 years

Obviously, this is not an ideal reaction. It’s costly, both financially and emotionally. These days, I’m back out in the world, but trying to take a more balanced approach. You can do it, too! The trick? Staying alert for signs of travel burnout, and taking action as soon as possible.

1. Your Inner Monologue Goes Super Negative

Grumbling about a view like this? Serious burnout.

I’m a pretty positive person — so when my inner monologue starts going dark, I know it’s time to take a break. I might start looking suspiciously at people who approach me, or snap at vendors who try to reel me in. In London, a city that I adore, I once found myself riding the Tube and just scowling in disgust at the crowds and the heat and the smell. (Things I don’t usually even notice because I’m so excited to be there.)

If you’re traveling, and you find yourself grumbling constantly, take a moment to think. Are things actually that bad, or are you just burned out on travel?

2. You Can’t Get Excited About Anything

When I can’t get excited about trekking in Nepal, there’s a problem!

For someone who loves to travel, this is so heartbreaking. Nothing feels exciting anymore — not even your dream trips.  This is such a disconcerting feeling that you might start behaving like an addict. You start traveling frantically, chasing each glimmer, looking for your next hit of excitement.

The thing is, as you get more and more burned out, that little spark gets dimmer. Eventually, it’s just gone. So! If you’re noticing a dip in excitement, now is the time to stop.

3. Every New Place Feels Exactly the Same

New places have so many details that are hard to see when you’re burned out

When I’ve been on the road for a long time, new places start to lose their shine. I arrive in a new city, and I’m instantly bored. I don’t bother going to see the famous local cathedral, because I know it’s going to look exactly like the 100 before it. I get to a new Central American town, and I’m irritated because the buildings are all the same cinder-block structures as the last town. There’s nothing new to discover, anywhere in the world.

Obviously, none of those things are true. It’s not the place that’s the problem — it’s me! When you have travel burnout, it’s impossible to see and appreciate those delightful little details that set each place apart.

4. You Stop Making Instagram Stories

If I’m not Instagram story-ing THIS, the burnout is real

I love making Instagram stories when I travel; they’re such a fun way to share little in-the-moment reactions with my friends and family back home. Often, my stories are filled with the small joys of travel: an older couple taking a jumping picture by the Colosseum, or a hilarious English t-shirt in Asia. These are little things I might forget to add to a blog post, but they make me smile throughout the day.

When I start getting messages that say, “Are you alive? You haven’t made an Instagram story lately!”, I know there’s a problem. This is like the canary in the coal mine — it happens early, when I’m in the very beginning stages of burnout.

Of course, your sign might be different. You might stop texting your friends, or write fewer emails, or post less often on Facebook.

5. The Biggest Sign of Travel Burnout: Your Friends Tell You to Stop

When my friends tell me to come home and drink scotch with them, it’s a sign

I don’t know about you, but my best friend always knows when I’m burned out before I do. He sees that subtle shift in the way I talk about things, even when I don’t know it’s happening. If your friends start asking you if you’re alright, or expressing concern that you’re dealing with travel fatigue, or flat-out telling you to come home, take it as a sign. Those people know you, love you, and want the best for you — it’s probably a good idea to listen to them!

The good news? Once you know that you’re getting burned out on travel, you can take action. Go home and let your mom feed you for a couple of weeks. Hole up in an Airbnb and pretend to be a normal person for a month. Stay with a friend and surround yourself with the laughter and familiarity you miss. With a little bit of comfort and self-care, you can beat travel burnout and get back on the road. (Or not; no judgement here!)

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